BELGRADE, Serbia — A stewardess who entered the record books when she survived a record 33,000-foot fall from the sky without a parachute has died at age 66, almost 45 years after the miraculous feat.
Vesna Vulovic was a 22-year-old flight attendant with Yugoslav Airlines in January 1972 when she made history by surviving the epic fall when the Douglas DC-9 she was working on broke apart in the sky.
Investigators concluded the plane had been brought down by a bomb as it passed over Czechoslovakia, killing the other 27 people on board.
But they believed Vulovic managed to survive the stupendous tumble because a food trolley kept her pinned within an intact piece of the tail as it fell. The piece also landed in deep snow on the side of a mountain which they believe cushioned her landing.
Still, Vulovic suffered a fractured skull, three broken vertebrae and two broken legs. She lay in a coma for weeks following the crash and was paralyzed from the waist down for some time, although she later regained her ability to walk.
“I was broken, and the doctors put me back together again,” she told the New York Times in 2008. “Nobody ever expected me to live this long.
In the years that followed, Vulovic continued to work for Yugoslav Airlines, albeit at a desk job. She said she had no memory of the fateful flight or crash. She was fired in 1990 when she took part in protests against the regime of then-Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic.
In 1985, she gained a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for surviving the longest fall without a parachute.
In 2009, a group of German, Czech and Dutch reporters published a story claiming the plane had been accidentally shot down by military forces at a much lower altitude and that Vulovic’s miraculous story of survival was concocted as part of a cover up. Both she and Czech civil aviation authorities dismissed the claim as a conspiracy theory.